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This is not the place in which to attempt to give an exposition of George Eliot's genius, or an analysis of any of her works. But it may be allowed me to say, that I think I only express the ripest fruit of sound critical inquiry when I affirm, that what Shakespeare did for the Drama, George Eliot has been, and still is, doing for the Novel. By those who know her works really well, this branch of literature can never again be regarded as mere story-telling, and the reading of it as only a pastime. George Eliot has magnified her office and made it honourable; she has 'for ever sanctified the Novel by making it the vehicle of the grandest and most uncompromising moral truth. In employing such language as this, I would not be supposed to
undervalue the writings of other novelists, even as regards high moral teaching; yet I use it advisedly, as indicating my own decided preference and the reason of it. Nor is it only as a novelist that George Eliot has claims upon our closest attention and our deepest regard; it is not in this field alone that she has acquitted herself with such mastery.
• The Legend of Jubal,' · Armgart,' and 'The Spanish Gypsy,' so massive in structure, so lofty in tone, so rich in thought, fairly entitle their author to a foremost place in the ranks of British poets. Viewed either as an artist or as a teacher, or as both, and whether speaking through poetry or through prose, it seems to be admitted on all hands that George Eliot's position among modern authors is equally distinguished and
But, in addition to those grand central truths which her works, taken as a whole, can alone be said to embody, I had long observed (in common, I trust, with thousands of others) that there is to be found, on almost every page of her writings, some wise thought finely expressed, some beautiful sentiment tenderly clothed, some pointed
witticism exquisitely turned, or some little bit of humour genially exhibited. And the idea at last occurred to me, that it might be well to set about collecting as many as possible of these within the compass of a volume. The result is now before the reader.
Although well aware that no dreams of reading a book of extracts right through, be it big or little, and however good, I am not without hopes that the Character Classification which has been here adopted may render it quite a pleasant thing to peruse large portions of the work at a sitting. At the same time, my chief endeavour has been to make the volume such, that open it wherever he may, the reader may light upon something which is either wise, or witty, or tender, or humorous. If this endeavour has been attended with any measure of success I have my reward. A classification of subjects was found to be out of the question ; yet, in arranging the extracts, a sort of method has been pursued, which, although it is impossible to explain it here, may probably make itself felt as the book is being read. On the whole, however, my own
labour in connection with the volume has been very trifling, and altogether pleasant. What of wealth it contains is drawn entirely from George Eliot's treasury; what of light there is in it streams from her alone as its source. It is scarcely necessary to add, that this little work by no means professes to have drained George Eliot's writings of the riches with which they so abound. Of course, only a sample could be given here; for a full supply the reader is referred to the novels and poems themselves, with the assurance (on the part of one who has made them a close study for years) that that supply would seem to be actually without a limit.